Baptists. Presbyterians. Methodists. Pentecostals. Wesleyans. Lutherans. These are just a handful of the different Christian denominations out there. In fact, you can drive down any major street and see several churches on the same block, The difference? Denomination. It's like walking into a Baskin Robbins with 31 flavors to choose from.
In the past I'd look at all these different churches and get discouraged. "Why can't you Christians just get along?"; "Aren't there bigger issues at stake?"; "Don't you see how you're confusing non-Christians and young believers alike?"
However in recent years my thoughts have changed. In fact, not only am I no longer discouraged by all these different denominations but I'm encouraged by them. Would I wish there were more unity? Sure. But I glory in the diversity. Here's why.
The Bible Is Being Taken Seriously
I understand how discouraging it can be to see these different Christian denominations disagreeing about seemingly minor issues. And some denominations could probably be a little more charitable in their disagreements. But we should acknowledge that at least they're taking their Bibles seriously. And I feel that people who lament over denominations may not be taking their Bibles seriously enough.
J. Gresham Machen once noted a time in the 16th century when the early Reformed churches disagreed about how to view the Lord's Supper. It would've been easy for them just to disregard this issue and unite over a "greater cause." But as Machen writes, "Such indifferentism would have been far more deadly than all the division between the branches of the church."
A division over doctrine is unfortunate. But a dismissal of doctrine is disastrous. And on this side of eternity, that's what I think we'll be doing if we ever get rid of denominations.
There's Actually A Lot of Unity
Usually when we look at denominations we highlight the differences. But one thing we don't do enough of is highlighting the similarities. As someone who belongs to a particular Christian "tribe," I don't ever refuse fellowship with someone outside my tribe. Sure our expression of the gospel is often different, but so long as the message is the same (Gal 1:9) we're brothers.
One helpful way to look at the different denominations in Christianity is to look at the differences between national and state borders in a country. In Christianity there are "national borders" - core beliefs of the Christian faith (e.g. Trinity, Deity of Christ, etc.). When any Christian "tribe" crosses national borders, they've departed from "Christian soil." So guys like Rob Bell or groups like Jehovah Witnesses have deported (read this helpful article).
However in Christianity there are also "state borders" - secondary beliefs that are important but not primary (e.g. baptism, spiritual gifts, etc.). All denominations live in different "states" from each other and depending on their distance, they can look weird to you just as Mid-Westerners look weird to Californians and vice versa. I'm sure we all have that relative who lives in a different region and seems peculiar. But we're still family. Same with different Christians.
We're Driven to Humility
I'm going to put some of my cards out on the table: I'm Reformed. All five points of Calvinism make sense to me. Dispensationals make less sense to me. Spiritual gifts (even the charismatic ones) seem normative. I'm usually an Amil but sometimes I'm a historic Pre-mil. Egalitarianism is understandable but Complementarianism seems more biblical.
Do I think I'm right? Of course - otherwise why would I believe in what I believe? However I know for other Christians they look at the same Bible I'm looking at & come to different conclusions. So sometimes I can't help but look at all these different views and wonder, "What if I'm wrong?" That prospect doesn't prevent me from having convictions, but it does cause me to be more humble about them.
God Empowers All This Diversity
Did Jesus have all these different denominations in mind back when He built His church (Mt 16:18)? I'm not sure. But what I feel more sure about is that He's working through each of them now. After all, the Spirit seems to be using these different Christian tribes to uniquely reach the different national tribes around the world.
Ever wonder why the majority of Koreans are Presbyterian? Or why the majority of Chinese are Baptists? Or why the majority of South Americans are Pentecostal? Of course it was the gospel at work; but as Tim Keller notes, these different expressions of the gospel seem to reach different people groups in unique ways. In other words, certain denominations seem to reach certain people more effectively than the other denominations.
Do I wish all the churches just united together and became one church? Sometimes. But I also can't help but think that God is working through these denominations to fulfill the mission He set forth to create a new Israel from every name, tribe and tongue. And for this ultimate reason, I glory in the different denominations out there.